Friday, March 25, 2011

What Good is God?

One of my favorite authors is Philip Yancey. While I don't always agree with him, he always makes me think. It was not different in his book, What Good is God? In Search of A Faith That Matters. In this book he investigates some of the situations that have happened around the world that are hard to understand such as: Virginia Tech: Campus Massacre, China: Winds of Change, Green Lake: Professional Sex Workers, etc.I trust the quotes below will cause you to ponder the greatness of our God!

The sufferings of Jesus show us that pain comes to us not as punishment but rather as a testing ground for faith that transcends pain. In truth, pain redeemed impresses me more than pain removed. p. 31

Nothing irredeemable has happened or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God's full world. Dallas Willard p. 31

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us," Paul concludes. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Terrible things will happen on this planet, yet we have access to a "peace that passes understanding" that can calm both heart and mind in the midst of tragedy. God's love is the foundational truth of the universe, and I pray that you do not let your grief obscure that fact. p. 32

From the book, Where is God When It Hurts? - I guess I'd have to answer that with another question, "Where is the church when it hurts?" p. 33

. . . God created the natural world, after all, and called it good. Furthermore, in the Old Testament God inspired sacred craftsmanship and a written revelation still regarded as a masterpiece. The New Testament shows more ambivalence toward culture, perhaps because early Christians lived under the shadow of cultured but pagan Rome. Lewis thought it necessary to put culture in its proper place. "The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman," he said, "become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly 'as to the Lord.'" The salvation of a single soul, he said elsewhere, is worth more than all the epics and tragedies ever written-quite an admission for a man who taught literature for a living. p. 105

As Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, indulging in pleasure apart from the Creator's intent can lead to a form of slavery. "An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure" is the devil's formula. p. 109

We must refuse, abandon, deny self altogether as a ruling, or determining, or originating element in us. It is to be no longer the regent of our action. We are no more to think"What should I like to do?" but "What would the Living One have me to do?" To answer that question becomes the central focus of a life of faith. ~C. S. Lewis p. 111

I do write honestly about my past, even though it may cause others pain. I would hope that readers call me down on my own inconsistencies and exaggerations and theological errors. I know of no more honest book than the Bible, which tells the ugly truth about its main protagonists (think Moses, David, Peter, Paul) as well as the church established to carry on the tradition (think of James, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians, as well as the letters to the seven churches in Revelation). In contrast, the Pharisees and their kin exhibit one persistent flaw: an inability to take criticism. People and institutions naturally want to present themselves in the best light and thus we rationalize or cover up mistakes. When we do so we move away from authenticity toward the very dangers Jesus warned against, in the process sealing off grace. p. 122

Church historian Mark Noll remarks that the song "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" plainly errs when it says, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." No, the rest of the world grows clearer, not dimmer, in that light. God created the world of matter, set us down in its midst, and entered it in the Incarnation. The least we can do is appreciate it. Helen Keller gave good advice: "Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind; hear the music of voices, the song of a bird, as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow." p. 129

For the Christian, living by strict rules becomes a danger when it quenches the spiritual life rather than expresses it. Do you rely on rules as a way to earn God's approval? Does a rule-based community set up a ranking system of higher and lower spirituality? Do rules distract you from weightier issues? Which do they foster, pride or humility? Do you nourish the inner life or merely whitewash the outer appearance? These are the questions Jesus raised about the Pharisees, in some of the strongest language he ever used. p. 132

D.L. Moody, asked whether he was filled with the Spirit, replied, "Yes. But I leak." p. 136

The last time I visited Rhema Church I told you about Joanna Flanders-Thomas, a remarkable woman who first worked against apartheid and then turned her attention to a local problem, the most violent prison in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela spent eight years of his confinement. Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation. She organized a tiny ministry with the grand name The Centre for Hope and Transformation. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence; the next year there were two and the following year eight. Joanna's results attracted the attention of BBC producers, who sent a camera crew from London to film two one-hour documentaries on her work.

I told you how I met Joanna and her husband at a restaurant on the waterfront of Cape Town. "I've seen the BBC documentaries, but I still don't get it," I said. "These guys are monsters-rapists, murderers. And from what I could see you were simply holding Bible studies, playing trust games, having prayer meetings. What really happened o transform Pollsmoor Prison?" Joanna looked up and said, almost without thinking, "Well, oh course, Philip, God was already present in the prison, I just had to make Him visible."

Joanna's offhand comment became for me a mission statement of how to live as an Adult follower of Jesus. We know God's qualities: justice, righteousness, compassion, mercy, grace, love. For whatever reason, God has chosen to convey those qualities on earth through human beings like us. That can be a daunting task, I assure you, yet I have seen it accomplished through ordinary people here in South Africa. p. 163

Let me introduce the Parent stage by borrowing an object lesson from Dr. Paul Brand, a mentor of mine whose own life demonstrated the truth he was illustrating. In the middle of a talk in the stately chapel of Wheaton College in Illinois he reached in his pocket and pulled out a cluster of grapes. "Excuse me, I think I need a bit of refreshment," he said, and some in the audience tittered. He plucked a juicy red grape, popped it in his mouth, and chewed it with a smile of satisfaction. Suddenly his face wrinkled into a frown and he loudly spat out the seeds onto the plush carpet, startling the students. After the laughter died down, he went on to make a serious point.

Dr. Paul Brand read a text on the fruit of the Spirit as described by Paul in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. "These qualities are good for you in every way," he explained. "They are qualities of God, who wants to grow them inside you. Yet as someone who has raised fruit trees, I know that from the fruit's perspective the ultimate goal is reproduction. The fruit is attractive and beautiful so that a bird or perhaps a person will find that grape, or apple, or blackberry, pick it, and do just what I have done: deposit its seed on the ground. If we were meeting outside, rather than in this beautiful chapel, I could come back in ten years or so and find a grape vine growing as a result of my sermon illustration this morning."

I later walked in an orchard with Dr. Brand and heard him explain in more detail. "We think of fruit from our perspective, assuming its appeal is meant for our enjoyment. See this apple? It's colorful, delicious, fragrant. From the viewpoint of the apple, though, our enjoyment is mainly a way to produce more apples. Everything about the fruit is oriented toward reproduction. When it falls to the ground, it makes a slight dent in the soil, and it contains just enough meat to nourish the seeds inside. pp. 165-166

Recently I have been reading a historical study by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. A sociologist of religion, Stark investigated the success of the early Christian movement which, starting from a few thousand followers, grew to encompass half the population of the Roman Empire in three centuries. In the midst of a hostile environment, the Christians simply acted on their beliefs. Going against the majority culture, they treated slaves as human beings, often liberating them, and elevated women to positions of leadership. When an epidemic hit their towns, they stayed behind to nurse the sick. They refused to participate in such common practices as abortion and infanticide. They responded to persecution as martyrs, not as terrorists. And when Roman social networks disintegrated, the church stepped in. Even one of their pagan critics had to acknowledge that early Christians loved their neighbors "as if they were our own family." p. 214

People instinctively know the difference between something done with a profit motive and something done with a love motive.

Some in the United States judge our nation's success by such measures as gross national product, military might, and global dominance. The kingdom of God measures such things as care for the downtrodden and love for enemies. In the final reckoning described in Matthew 25, God will judge nations by how they treat the poor, the sick, the hungry, the alien, and the prisoner. pp. 214-215

On the last day, after a triumphant tour, the teenagers met Dr. J. Christy Wilson, a revered figure in Afghanistan. Born of missionary parents in Iran, he earned a degree from Princeton University and a PhD in Oriental Studies from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He then spent twenty-two years in Afghanistan, serving as principal of a government high school and teaching English to the Crown Prince and Afghan diplomats. He also led the Community Christian Church and founded the School for the Blind in Kabul.

Wilson drove the teenagers to an unusual tourist site, the only cemetery in Afghanistan where "infidels" could be buried. He walked to the first, ancient gravestone, pitted with age. "This man worked here thirty years, and translated the Bible into Afghan language," he said. "Not a single convert. And in this grave next to him lies the man who replaced him, along with his children who died here. He toiled for twenty-five years, and baptized the first Afghan Christian." As they strolled among the gravestones, he recounted the stories of early missionaries and their fates.

At the end of the row he stopped, turned, and looked the teenagers straight in the eye. "For thirty years, one man moved rocks. That's all he did, move rocks. Then came his replacement, who did nothing but dig furrows. There came another who planted seeds, and another watered. And now you kids-you kids-are bringing in the harvest." pp. 221-222

He (George, an A.A. member) said that in church if someone comes in late, people turn and look at the latecomer. Some scowl, some smile a self-satisfied smile-See, that person's not as responsible as I am. In A.A., though, if a person shows up late, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to greet the latecomer, aware that the tardiness may be a sign that the addict almost didn't make it. As George put it, "When I show up late, it proves that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol." p. 236

. . . for an addiction is simply a form of idolatry, something that supplants God as the center of our lives. p. 237

There is a common saying in A.A.: "Religion is for people who believe in Hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there." p. 243

One could hardly find a better poster child for the oppressed than Bartimaeus. Like so many disabled and impoverished people here in India, he subsisted by begging. Blind, he had a few options in that day. To make matters worse, his very name in Hebrews meant "son of garbage" or "son of filth," so that everytime someone called his name it deepened the insult. Bartimaeus stands for the underclass all over the world, those who for whatever reason cannot live without outside help. p. 277

Of all the people healed by Jesus, Bartimaeus is the only one whose name the Gospels record. p. 278

. . . God has invested in us followers. We are the ones called to demonstrate a faith that matters to a watching world. p. 287

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